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Trouble in Turkey? Military Elite Resigns

Turkey’s entire top military command resigns over row with Prime Minister Erdogan.
By Elad Benari, Canada
First Publish: 7/30/2011, 12:44 AM

Turkey’s entire top military command resigned Friday in a row with the government over generals jailed for an alleged coup plot, AFP reported.

According to the report, Turkey’s Chief of Staff, General Isik Kosaner, stepped down after several meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent days, ahead of a meeting scheduled for early August of the army’s high command, which decides on promotions for senior officers.

Local media reports blamed Kosaner’s resignation on tensions between the military and Erdogan over army demands for the promotion of dozens of officers who are being held on suspicion of involvement in an alleged anti-government plot.

Following Kosaner, the commanders of the army, air force and navy also quit, a first for Turkey. Kosaner was appointed to his post for a three-year term last year and the other three commanders were due to have retired next month.

AFP noted that 42 generals and dozens of officers are in jail in a probe of alleged plots to overthrow the government. As part of the investigation into an alleged 2003 plan dubbed “Operation Sledgehammer” to overthrow the government, 28 servicemen will go on trial next month.

The suspects risk 15 to 20 years in jail if convicted.

The investigation has landed about a tenth of the army’s generals in jail. While several of those held are already retired, senior officers in the army have been trying to get some of the serving officers promoted despite their incarceration. The government, meanwhile, insists the group be forced to retire.

Erdogan’s AKP party has not commented on the resignations, but AFP reported that Turkish President Abdullah Gul hosted Erdogan and military police chief General Necdet Ozel on Friday evening, leading analysts to speculate that Ozel would likely become the new Chief of Staff.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that the United States has confidence in Turkey.

“We have confidence in the strength of Turkey’s institutions, both democratic and military. It’s an internal matter,” Toner was quoted by AFP as having told reporters.

The tension between Turkey and Israel continued this past week as Erdogan was reportedly considering downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Turkish Hurriyet newspaper reported Monday that Erdogan’s “Plan B” is to downgrade the level of Turkey’s diplomatic staff in Israel if Israel continues to refuse to apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident during the 2010 flotilla to Gaza.

 

While Israeli leaders have been at odds over whether Israel should apologize, Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday said Israel was “willing to consider apologizing” for problems that occurred during the Marmara raid.

Speaking to reporters in Washington following a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta, Barak said he would prefer to “come to an understanding” with Turkey rather than wait for the publication of a UN report on the incident, which he deemed “problematic for Israel.”